Making Good Speakers Great

Engaging Presentation
Creating an Experience

If you think a speaker’s primary task is to say the right words, in the proper order, without making too many mistakes, it’s likely you give boring presentations. I understand how easy it is to fall prey to this assumption. After all, language is a large part of presentation, and that involves words. But on their own, words are just symbols and combinations of sounds, with no power to move your listeners.

I see this in my coaching practice, all the time. If you’re just saying the words, delivering the information, nothing’s happening. It’s dull. You’re not invested in your message. Your listeners aren’t engaged. You sense it, and just want to get through it. Your audience politely endures it. Nothing changes when it’s over, and yet another opportunity is wasted.

Know this. Good communication is never just about the words. It’s an experience. Great speakers create an experience for their listeners. They feel it for themselves, in the moment of communication, and invite their audience to share that experience. It’s more than words; you have to feel something. Here’s how you do that.

Make the message real. Chip and Dan Heath, authors of the bestselling book, Made to Stick, have this to say about presentation. “The #1 mistake we’ve observed in presentations—and there is no close second—is that the message is too abstract.” There’s too much information and not enough examples. Build your presentation around stories, demonstrations and images to help your listeners experience what you’re talking about.

Don’t just talk about the topic. A robot can do that. Feel it, see it, hear it, taste it, live it—as you’re speaking. If you use a word like “excited,” you should feel energized. If you express thanks to someone, you should feel gratitude. I know it seems obvious, but you’d be amazed at how often your energy, expression, and tone of voice, are completely at odds with the words coming out of your mouth. It’s because you’re not in the experience. If you feel it, we will feel it. If you don’t feel anything, we won’t feel anything.

Give yourself permission to perform. Many speakers are working with conversational energy, because they’re used to that and it feels comfortable—and safe—but that’s not enough for presentation. Public speaking requires more than the energy you bring to everyday conversation, physically, vocally and emotionally. You probably fear being “over the top,” when the real problem is you’re not getting off the ground. What feels like too much to you is often just right for your audience.

Public speaking is never just about the words. It’s an experience. It’s your job, as the speaker, to create that experience and invite your listeners to share it. Before that can happen, you must be in the experience, yourself. When you make the message real, speak with that strong sense of personal connection, and invest yourself fully in the performance, you will be expressive and engaging. Your listeners will be receptive and responsive to your message. You will make an impact.

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